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McCullough warehouse goes up in flames

The warehouse at the height of the fire / News photo courtesy of Glenn Kelley

News Staff Writer

Firefighters have returned daily to tame fiery flare-ups at the site of a January 31 blaze that destroyed a massive seed warehouse at a McCullough cotton gin.
Smoke was reported coming from the warehouse, part of Frank Currie Gin Company, around 12:45 p.m. on January 31. The burning cotton seed has continued to combust, long after the major flames were quelled by volunteer firefighters from McCullough, Wawbeek and Huxford, as well as units from Poarch Creek Indians Fire Department.
Thick, black smoke from the burning 30,000-square foot structure could be seen from as far away as Interstate 65.
The crew of a PCIFD ladder truck sprayed water through the top of the building as other firefighters worked at ground level.
“We attacked it from the front,” McCullough VFD Chief Eddie Kirby said during a February 4 interview. “It was burning from one side to the other, on the outside and inside.”
Firefighters battled the initial blaze for more than 12 hours — extinguishing various hot spots that flickered throughout the building — and finally cleared the scene “around 12:45 or 1:00 a.m.” on February 1. McCullough VFD has been back numerous times since then, according to Kirby.
“This is the biggest fire we’ve ever had up here, that I know of,” he said. “We’ve been back up there (at the fire site) the last five days, and it’s still burning today.”
A portion of the warehouse collapsed as flames licked the structure, holding the heat in and causing more seed to ignite. Specialized crews were this week tearing the metal roof off and tearing the blackened remains apart in an effort to prevent further flare-ups, he added.
Kirby said the cause of the fire is still under investigation, although he wagered a guess that spontaneous combustion was the culprit.
“It was probably that, or something like that,” he said, adding that the best solution would be to dig the smoldering seeds out, spread them on the ground and pour water on them.
Frank Currie Gin Company operated in Atmore from 1913 until 1955 before its owners purchased Prestwood Gin in McCullough and moved all operations there. The seed warehouse was reportedly added in the mid-1990s. The company is currently owned by Alabama Farmers Cooperative and reportedly employs about 15 people.